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Published: Wednesday, 6/3/2009

Eldora event benefits injured soldiers, families of fallen

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

When Tony Stewart and a dozen or so of his best buddies from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway in the western Ohio countryside, the flying dirt and sliding cars will be seen by thousands of fans in attendance and by millions more across the nation in the HBO audience.

Meanwhile, the legacies of many of the beneficiaries of the all-star event have taken shape halfway around the world.

Stewart, the two-time Sprint Cup champion who bought the historic track in 2004, has designated four charities that care for severely injured soldiers, fallen heroes and their families to receive the proceeds from the fifth annual Prelude to the Dream.

"In light of what's going on in our world today - with our troops engaged in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world - we felt it was time to do something for those who came back from serving their country with severe injuries, and for those families whose loved ones never made it back," Stewart said.

When Stewart has a few of his friends over to race 2,300-pound dirt Late Model stock cars pushed by more than 800 horsepower, the guest list is a roll call of the top drivers in stock car racing, including five Sprint Cup Series champions, six Daytona 500 winners, and a collective 609 NASCAR victories.

Besides the owner and host, the Prelude field includes Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kasey

Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Bill Elloitt, Brian Vickers, Robby Gordon, David

Reutimann, Dave Blaney, Aric Almirola, Kenny Wallace, Ken Schrader, Joey Logano, Jeremy Mayfield and David Stremme.

The show at the half-mile, high-banked oval consists of the elite lineup participating in hot laps, qualifying, heat races and then the 30-lap feature race. Stewart has won the event twice, with Edwards and Wallace taking the Prelude title the other two years.

Stewart has raised more than $2 million for charity in the four previous Prelude events he has hosted at Eldora. He hopes tonight's show will allow him to send $1 million to this year's designated charities - Wounded Warrior Project, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Operation Homefront, and Fisher House.

"It's an ambitious goal, especially in this economy" Stewart said. "But if we don't shoot for a number that is a true difference-maker, we're not ever going to reach it. That's our goal, and me and everybody else associated with this event is going to do everything we can to meet that goal, and support our heroes who are protecting our freedom."

Eldora Speedway is located in tiny Rossburg (pop. 224), which is about 10 miles from the Indiana line and about 30 miles west of I-75 at Sidney, halfway between Dayton and Lima.

The "Prelude to The Dream" title refers to Stewart's charity race serving as the informal undercard for this weekend's running of the annual Dirt Late Model Dream, a showcase event at Eldora for 15 years that carries a $100,000 purse for the winner.

Contact Matt Markey at

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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